Monday, 7 February 2011

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

dead bear, snake virgin birth

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3207116/Dying-bear-forced-to-drink-cola-in-foul-cell.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9139000/9139971.stm

Thursday, 2 April 2009

the lamb and the fox in the court of the Leader

Once there was a great famine in the land. The hard times made many well-meaning animals of the kingdom testy with their neighbours and quick to offend and to take offense. As for those animals who were by nature tricksters, the hard times made them even more sly. And the fox, who was the craftiest of these as well as one of the hungriest, hatched a plan to ensnare a meal.

He came one day to the lamb with a trumped-up charge.

He said, 'Lamb, you eat twice as much as you deserve. I've seen you with your kind and on the amount you eat you could raise two very fat lambs. And what's more,' he continued deliberately, 'The amount of grass you eat is unsustainable. How do you expect the rest of your kind to survive into the winter? It'll be here sooner than you think, and you'll be sorry.'

The lamb, whose ribs were clearly visible, denied the accusation, though he was too scared to do anything but shake his head. Also, he wasn't entirely sure he knew what 'unsustainable' meant.

The fox insisted, 'You know something else, lamb! I'd be well within my rights to eat you right now, since you are fattening yourself on the grass that other lambs could eat. More of your little lamb friends will shortly die and it will be the fault of your greed. If I were to eat you now I'd be doing your whole kind a favour!'

The lamb again shook his head, but this time he also spoke, though softly: 'Sir, you know you have no right to eat me, and what you say is false. Submit this case to the Leader and he will say the same.'

The fox was disappointed, but what the lamb said was true, and he would have to appeal to the Leader if he wanted his meal. So he agreed to a trial.

The two came before the lion, Leader of the animals. And the lion listened long and patiently to the fox's complaint and the lamb's defense. Afterwards, the lion was silent for a long time, and then he spoke.

'I have made my decision,' he roared.

'It is clear that despite what you say you have seen, fox, the lamb remains very thin indeed. It seems to me that you are trying to talk your way into a meal when you do not deserve one.'

The fox bowed with gritted teeth, and then spoke, 'Your highness, I think your counseling very wise, of course, but I must say something. I believed, in all honesty, that the lamb was eating more than his fair share. In retrospect, however, I realise that I was probably delirious with hunger and what I saw was a vision, and not the truth.'

And then he bowed with a grin.

The Lion replied, 'Times are hard for all of us, you know. You should not seek to take advantage of the weakest and most honest among us at this time of great need.'

He continued, 'Fox, do you know the punishment for wasting the Court's time with fraudulent cases?'

The fox's grin faded. 'I'm not sure,' he lied. 'Perhaps you can tell me.'

The Lion licked his lips, 'Perhaps I can show you.'

And with that, he swung his mighty claw and sliced the fox's throat open.

And then, nodding with a kindly expression, he turned to the lamb, who was still trembling.

'And as for you, lamb. You are a very good and honest creature, and you have done well to fight your corner.'

The lamb prepared to turn and leave for home.

'But,' said the lion, stopping the lamb, 'As I said, times are very hard. And though you are very thin indeed, I can hardly make dinner of a mangy fox.'

And with that, the lion lunged forward and snatched the lamb neckfirst in his jaws.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

the Kangaroo and the cup of tea

Preface: This story is mainly for the weans and babbies. It was inspired by the recent and popular news item about the kangaroo who mistakenly broke into a family bedroom in Canberra. I have changed many of the particulars, as you will find, and have left out of my own story the fact that kangaroos, when cornered, are apparently quite dangerous and capable of disembowelling a man. My kangaroo would never do such a thing.

Also, the whole thing, it must be said, is down to AGM, whose lovely sketch of a kangaroo having a cup of tea became a challenge to write a story about the same.


the Kangaroo and the cup of tea

Once there was a Kangaroo who loved tea. She loved tea because she was Australian, and Australians love tea. Australians love tea because the English love tea, and none of them can help it.

This Kangaroo decided to move to Minnesota. In Minnesota more people drink coffee than tea, and if the Kangaroo had known this she probably wouldn't have moved. She didn't know this because she was a Kangaroo and not a human, but she was man-sized, for all that, like most Kangaroos.

So when the Kangaroo arrived in Minnesota she expected to get her fair share of tea, just the same as at home. (In Australia if a Kangaroo comes round to your house you are expected to invite her in for tea. This is because the English have the same practice with their neighbours, and none of them can help it.)

As soon as the Kangaroo got off the plane in Minneapolis, she expected that there'd be somewhere she could get a cup of tea. She ended up at the airport Starbuck's, which said it had all sorts of tea with strange names, but no Regular Tea, which was what she wanted. She settled for Earl Grey, but they gave it to her in a heavy mug rather than a bone china cup, and she was gravely offended and refused to drink it. She left the airport in a huff.

After being in Minnesota for several hours without a proper cup of tea, she went to the supermarket in a huff to buy some. For some reason everybody in the shop seemed hugely distressed about her being there, maybe because they could see how frustrated she was after a long flight without her cuppa. When she got to the checkout line to pay for the tea (it wasn't her favourite brand, but it was the best she could do under the circumstances) nobody was prepared to take her money. In fact, the checkout girl seemed to be hiding under her desk, as if she didn't even want to see her!

So the Kangaroo left the now completely empty supermarket in high dudgeon, without any of the tea (she could hardly have stolen it!), ready to look for some elsewhere. But as soon as she got into the parking lot she saw a crowd of law enforcement, many of them crouched behind their vehicles, with guns out and all of them shouting and looking very irate. The Kangaroo wanted to explain that she had not stolen any tea, and reached down to open her pouch to demonstrate this, when all of a sudden everywhere there were the sounds of shots and the smell of smoke. Naturally, this excited the poor Kangaroo, who darted away just as fast as she could from the scene.

The Kangaroo ran until she was utterly exhausted, and ended up in a quiet suburb in the early evening. To avoid detection she steered clear of the main streets, preferring to slink along in shadowed foliage until dark. As the sun set, the Kangaroo collapsed in a corner of a yard, thankful to have escaped. But she did not sleep. From where she lay she could see into a kitchen window of the house, where a woman was standing, washing dishes with her husband. The Kangaroo's man-sized heart soared, and she fell asleep feeling very happy indeed. She'd just have a short nap, and then when she woke up, she'd knock on their door and they'd offer her that cup of tea she so badly needed.

When the Kangaroo woke up it was the middle of the night. Damn. She had overslept. What could she do for tea at this time of night? She mulled it over and realized there was nothing for it but to wake them up. She hopped round to the front of the house and rang the doorbell, as that was the polite thing to do. When they didn't answer the Kangaroo started to get angry.

Now, it is well-known in Australia that Kangaroos have a temper. But maybe this is not well-known in Minnesota, because the man and his wife, who were asleep at the time, completely ignored the ringing doorbell and continued to slumber. The Kangaroo thought that she wasn't having any of this rudeness, and she went round again to the back of the house, where the husband and wife's bedroom was. She tapped twice, hard, on the sliding glass door with her nose, but the shapes under the covers refused to move. Well, she thought again, there was nothing for it. She tried the handle on the door, and pulling it hard with one of her short paws, she slid the door open and squeezed herself through.

Standing in the middle of the room, the kangaroo coughed politely, hoping to get the couple's attention. No response. After waiting a moment, she hopped over to the lightswitch and flipped it on with her nose. That seemed to do the trick-- the man was turning over and rubbing his eyes. But in a flash there was screaming-- the man was shouting and jumping on the bed, waving his arms, and the woman was shaking and whimpering, sitting upright in the bed but with blanket pulled tight over her eyes. Nothing was going according to plan at all! The Kangaroo was nervously jumping up and down and making a strange howling sound. The man made a final shout and leaped out at the Kangaroo, stretching one arm around her neck and wrestling her to the ground. Shocked as she was, the Kangaroo chose not to resist the man, and within a few moments found herself dragged out of the bedroom by the neck and thrown into the yard. Then the woman leapt out of bed and hastily slammed the sliding door and locked it, while the man stood next to her doubled over, breathing hard and cursing.

The next day the bruised and dejected Kangaroo bought a very expensive plane ticket back to Sydney. She flew British Air, so she got tea on the flight, even if it was in a paper cup, and this went some way to restoring her good spirits.

MORALITAS: Don't move to Minneapolis.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

the chimpanzee's talent

Once there was a zoo with a talented chimpanzee. The keepers discovered that he stockpiled stones in the early morning before the zoo opened, so that when visitors arrived at his enclosure later, he could hurl the stones at them. At first the visitors were frightened and worried for their safety, but then the keepers erected a chain fence to protect them from the attacks, and they were delighted instead. Word of this chimpanzee's habit spread, and scientists came to study him. When they wrote their reports, they argued that chimpanzees had a form of consciousness that only humans were previously known to have-- the kind that allows us to distinguish between immediate perception and memory and to plan for events in the future.

When the scientists published their results, the chimpanzee made the evening news and became famous across the world, so that soon another group of people began to arrive at the zoo. These were the activists, who said that the chimpanzee's aggressive behaviour was not amusing, as the visitors thought it, or interesting, as the scientists thought it, but deeply disturbing, because it indicated the chimpanzee was violently expressing his frustration with captivity. The animal must be released into the wild, they argued, and to keep him in the zoo was cruel.

Many of the visitors thought the activists had a good point, even if they made it awfully loudly, and some visitors began to avoid the chimpanzee's enclosure altogether because it made them feel uneasy. The keepers were hardly pleased with this, and perhaps because they also thought the activists had a point, or perhaps because they wanted more visitors to the zoo, they decided to remove all the stones from the chimpanzee's enclosure, so that he could no longer throw them.

At first this worked, and the chimpanzee had no stones to throw. But eventually he learned that at certain points in the year, continually freezing and thawing ice made the concrete enclosure cracked and brittle, allowing him to prise fragments of concrete from the enclosure itself. The scientists returned to see a marvelously clever reasoning machine. The activists returned to witness a stubborn creature who would not be easily fooled into complacency.

As time passed, two things happened very gradually, though it is not certain which caused the other, or in fact if there was any relationship between them: the people gradually lost interest in the chimpanzee's attacks, and soon even entirely forgot that he was famous at all, and the chimpanzee seemed to lose interest in prising rocks from the enclosure and attacking the visitors with them.

Then when the chimpanzee was very old, and there was no longer any visitor who remembered the cause for his fame, even the keepers seemed to forget why they had erected the fence. So the fence was brought down.

And so it came to pass one day that the chimpanzee, though old and frail, made the news again. Because on that day, he chose a stone and threw it at a young girl, who was hit in the forehead. This injury wasn't severe, but the force was sufficient to knock the girl backwards, causing her to fall and hit the back of her head on the pavement. And while this second injury did not kill her, she was never the same.

I was not there to see this, and in fact there were no other witnesses but the girl herself, her father having left her by the chimpanzee enclosure while he went to buy sweets. But the girl's word was convincing enough for the keepers to install another fence around the chimpanzee's enclosure. Not that this mattered much. The chimpanzee never threw another stone, and died of old age within a few months.

MORALITAS: Long-term planning yields greater rewards.

paratexts:
BBC: Zoo chimp 'planned' stone attacks
The BBC's Have YOUR say on chimp attacks, cause that's really necessary
Another stone-throwing chimp

Thursday, 26 February 2009

the donkeys and the temple

Once there was a great city, rich in silver and unsurpassed in learning, that sat at the feet of seven hills. The city was not Athens, Rome, or Glasgow. At the height of the city's military and colonial successes, the people decided they should build a great monument of stone to honour their gods. They mined the stone from the nearby mountains, and their donkeys pulled the heavy stone down the mountains, into the city, and up the tallest of the city's seven hills. There the people built the temple, which took many years. In this time, several generations of the donkeys lived, bore offspring, and died.

When the monument was finally completed, the people freed the beasts of burden from their duties. But to the citizens' surprise, the donkeys continued their daily route up and down from the mountains, despite their freedom. Nothing the people did could dissuade them from their observances.

Years passed, and the great city was sacked by a barbarian horde, who levelled the temple. The cowed citizenry did not rebuild their monument, but the donkeys continued up and down the mountains as they always had. In time the people grew to resent the donkeys, who returned to the razed acropolis each day and reminded them of the former glory of their city.

When the barbarians returned a second time to lay siege to the city, the starving citizens sacrificed the donkeys on the acropolis, as an appeal to the gods and a source of sustenance.

Another temple, greater than the original, was built on the ruins of the first nearly two centuries later. Today a major motorway intersects the route the donkeys must have travelled down from the mountains, into the city, and up the acropolis.

Friday, 6 February 2009

badger rescue...?

Abandoned badger saved from snow

What the article doesn't tell you is that there was a second badger cub also abandoned in the snow. That one was left to die of exposure. Maybe because it had tiny HUMAN HANDS instead of badger paws.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

the whale, the lion, and the monkey

The tale of the whale, the lion, and the monkey

In the beginning the world was cleft in two.

Before there was the notion of north and south, the world knew only the kingdom of the east and of the west. To the east, a great heaving sea. To the west, a vast dry continent whose contours could not be imagined. The ruler of the sea was the Whale; the Lion reigned over the land.

It came one day that the two leaders met, as the Lion prowled the cliff that marked the end of the continent and the Whale surfaced in the beating waves below.

As the two leaders spoke, they boasted of the wonders of their own kingdoms. The boasts turned to fierce argument, with both kings demanding that the other admit their world's inferiority. As the two beasts grew weary, they agreed to submit their case to an arbitrator, the Monkey, whom both kings agreed was the wisest creature in either world.

The Monkey came to the cliff's edge and thought carefully about how to settle the dispute. He told both Lion and Whale to bring him the most beautiful and precious thing in each of their worlds. The Lion and the Whale, finding it just, and full of confidence, departed to search.

When they returned to the cliff, many weeks later, the Lion brought the feathers of a peacock, and the Whale brought the largest and whitest pearls of the ocean. The Monkey took the pearls into his right hand and the feathers into his left and examined them for a long time. Then he told the Lion and the Whale to leave him in peace to consider the question of whose kingdom was the finest.

The sun rose and set three times before the Lion and Whale returned, anxious to hear of the Monkey's judgment. When they arrived they found the Monkey sitting at the cliff's edge, wearing a string of the pearls around his neck and the peacock feathers in the dense black hair on his head.

'Well, what have you decided?' the Whale asked. The Monkey stayed silent, crossing and re-crossing his legs and looking out to sea.

'Well?' growled the Lion, losing patience. 'What is your answer?'

The Monkey sighed, turning to the Lion and shaking his head. 'The question no longer interests me,' he said, fingering the pearl necklace.

And with that the Monkey got to his feet and walked away.

Friday, 25 April 2008

lobsters it is!

Lobster fable (in verse?) to come. But first....The Mole Man's Diary. At some point, when I finish it.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Beast of E_________

paratexts:
Is this the Beast of Lytham in my garden?
The Beast captured
The Beast of Lytham is dead
Prepare for return of the Beast

Again, illustrations to come.

The Beast of E__________

Long ago, in the village of E______, there lived a hearty and happy collection of rough peasants, farmers and shopkeepers. They had everything they needed in their little village, and very few wandered away from their birthplace to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The fields were plentiful at the harvest, and the sheep gambolled playfully on the hills in the sunshine, which shined nearly all the time in the village of E_____.

But there had been, for as long as most of the townspeople could remember, one dark stain on E____'s reputation. The people would shiver when asked about it, their faces clouding over if the horrible thing was even mentioned. And this thing was something they called The Beast of E____.

[Illustration: the village of E_____ ]

For years the Beast had ravaged their flocks and raped their chicken coops, prowled their gardens and raided their storerooms under the cover of night. Stories of what exactly the Beast was were as plentiful as the peasants themselves. Some insisted it was a large cat-- others a vicious rabid dog-- still others supposed it to be an animal the likes of which had never been recorded. Not knowing what exactly the Beast could be only increased the villagers fear of it-- so much so that they eventually introduced a curfew at sundown. The Beast had never yet pursued a villager, but the curfew reassured the people and allowed them to believe that their vigilance alone had prevented such an attack.

But no curfew could protect the villagers' livestock, and the Beast never relented in his attacks on those poor souls. The townspeople's fear was so great that they swore that when the Beast was finally captured, if indeed he ever was, that they would offer him the greatest honour they could bestow-- a chance to battle the village's strongest warrior. Rather than merely slaughtering the animal, they would offer the Beast a chance to survive: if the warrior were to lose the heroic battle to the death, the Beast would be released. If the warrior were to succeed in defeating the Beast, well then at least he would have been killed honourably.

One day the beast was spotted. A farmhand saw him, if only for a moment, rustling among the brush at the edge of the forest one morning . The farmhand, still shaking in fright, described the creature's appearance to the village's best draughtsman, who offered the following sketch of the Beast:

[Illustration: the Draughtsman's Sketch]

But it was years before the Beast was seen again, so long that it seemed for a time a nightmare of the village elders' imagination. Generations had come and gone and the Beast had only been spotted once, and young children in the fields would play games of Beast and Lamb with each other, mocking the creature their ancestors had so greatly feared.

Until one day, the thing-- the Beast himself-- came limping into town at dawn, right down the main lane and into the square, where he collapsed quietly, panting softly. At first no one noticed. When the baker arrived early to open his shop, he never noticed the beast panting and flattened by age and exhaustion in the square.

[Illustration: The Beast Comes to Town]

In fact it was a child who was the one to finally find the Beast. A farmer’s son who was on the way to the market was the first to see the old fox that was heaped in the grass. The boy ran to the bakery and begged the baker for some water.

'What for?' the baker asked him.

The boy said, 'There is an old fox-- I think he might be dying. We have to help him!'

'A fox? A fox shouldn't be in the village at this time of day,' the baker mused.

(Illustration: The boy, the baker and the fox)

Soon a crowd had gathered. They muttered amongst themselves. 'A fox?'

'Here in the middle of the day?'

'You know he looks a lot like...'

'Don't say it.'

'Do you think it could be--?'

'What? You think it could be...the...the--'

'The Beast?!'

Soon the villagers decided to fetch the farmhand who had so many years ago seen the Beast. The farmhand, then a young man, was now very old and frail. It took many hours to coax him out of his cottage and down the lane to where the Beast still lay. No one had yet given the Beast any water or meat.

'I think...' said the old man, 'I think that he is...he is the very same one.'

The crowd gasped.

'But he is, like me, grown old and frail. I don't think he is much longer for this world.'

[Illustration: the Old Farmhand identifies the Beast]

But the crowd had stopped listening. They were busy arguing about what should be done.

'Let's kill him now! Get rid of him!'

'No no, remember the promise the villagers made so long ago! We must hold a contest for the village's greatest warrior!'

'Don’t be ridiculous! He is an old dying fox-- he is in no condition to fight!'

'Still, we cannot just kill him!'

'Let's just leave him where he fell. He will die soon enough,' suggested one of the villagers.

There was silence as the crowd began to think it over. But soon the silence was broken by another villager, a very well-respected and silver-tongued merchant.

'We can hardly leave the thing. He is a fox, remember, and no object for our pity. Foxes are deceitful creatures. If this is the Beast himself, I wouldn’t put it past him to trick us into thinking he is older and weaker than he really is. And do you want to take that risk? It would be unwise to leave any fox here, in the heart of our city. Old or young, a fox is a fox. And no fox, even if he is the Beast of E____, deserves the honour or privilege of fighting one of us! To think it was even considered!'

Some of the other villager's disagreed, but in the end most were persuaded by the merchant, and determined that the fox must be killed in some fashion for their own safety. It was then that the apothecary stepped forward.

'I may have a solution,' he said. 'I am in possession of a number of dangerous elixirs, which taken in sufficient combination and quantity, will paralyse and eventually kill the fox.'

[Illustration: The Apothecary's Solution]

The anxious villagers thought this a fine idea, and without delay the apothecary brought the poisons forward. Leaning over the fox, he poured the three elixirs (for there were three) one by one into the fox's open mouth. The crowd waited until the old fox's chest finally stopped moving and his body grew cold and stiff.

And the villagers slept very peacefully that night, knowing that the Beast would no longer trouble them. The children, having seen the puny Beast for themselves, no longer played the silly games that had entertained them before. And every year, to this day, the villagers celebrate the poisoning of the Beast on the cold November morning he died.

[Illustration: Celebration. Alternatively, Dead Beast.]

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Hans

I'm still waiting for the illustrations for most of this fable, so I'm posting it now with the illustrations I've got, and I'll update the post as more come in. The quality isn't great on the images-- I'll see what I can do to improve that...!

The illustrations for this one, by the way, are by KB.


The tale of Hans the badger

There once was a badger called Hans. Hans was a badger like any other save one thing: he had human hands. When Hans was born his mother sobbed and his father turned away in disgust.

Even when he was still a tiny badger, Hans knew he was different. Sometimes, whilst drinking from a pool of water with the others, he would gaze sadly at the small, hairless paws that seemed to mark him out among his fellows.

When Hans turned seven years of age, there was a great commotion in the woodlands where the badgers lived. For it had been decided that The Elder Council of Badgers would convene to determine whether they would continue to allow Hans to live among them in the forest.

Hans paced outside the old stump while the Council deliberated his destiny. Sometimes he could hear only whispers and mutters emanating from the tree; at other times he heard muffled shouts of the Council arguing among themselves. But it was all over in a matter of hours, and soon the Badger King himself emerged from the old hollowed tree.

'Hans,' he said, 'We have reached a decision.'

He looked to Hans' parents, then to Hans, and then quickly away, shuddering at the sight of his horrible hands.

'Never, not in a thousand years, have we seen the likes of your...your...disability.'

Hans looked down at his feet.

'Son, you must leave the land of the badgers. You have been banished.'

[Image: Banished!]

Covering his badger face with his human hands, Hans turned from the council and his family and ran. He ran and ran and ran, deep into the forest, tears rolling down his furry face. Where could he go? What would he do? As painful as living in the land of badgers had been, he felt bereft without his kind.

[Image: Bereft]

Gasping for breath, Hans paused at a clearing to think. But he was soon distracted by a curious and strong smell he could not recognise. Had Hans been human, he might have recognised the odour as the smell of burnt oil and hot metal. Choosing to investigate the strange smell, Hans picked his way slowly through the clearing, until he came upon a steaming pile of wreckage.

[Image: the Wreckage in the Clearing]

Surprised and frightened, Hans searched around, careful not to touch the gleaming, steaming pieces of bright steel. Soon he heard a noise-- a soft groan coming from the trees at the edge of the clearance. Perhaps an animal is in pain, he quickly surmised, and he hurried to the source of the sound. There he found not one animal in pain, but many. They were pale animals of a curious shape, longer and thinner than a badger, and mostly devoid of fur!

[Image: The Curious Hairless Animals in Pain]

They had hair on their heads-- or at least some of them did. And if Hans had paid closer attention in that first moment, he would have noticed that they had hands just like his. But his attention was distracted by the horrible racket that this mass of burnt, injured bodies continued to make. Approaching one cautiously, for he had never seen such a creature before, Hans carefully laid his strange human hands upon the curious animal's chest.

[Image: Hans' Healing Hands]

Hans felt a warm sensation in the tips of his fingers and watched as the pale and bloodied beast under his hands grew still and quiet. The warmth too, was growing, until for a moment the heat in Hans' hands seemed unbearable. And then, as quickly as the warmth had spread it was extinguished. The creature, stunned with wonderment, groaned and raised himself up on his elbows, staring into the middle distance.

'How did you--? What did you--?' he asked, absent-mindedly.

Looking into Hans's eyes, he continued, 'What are you?'

'I am Hans,' said the badger.

'You healed me,' the man cried, 'You healed me with your...strange hands. They look almost...well, almost like mine!'

For a long moment Hans examined the strange creature's hands and his own, reluctantly agreeing with what the creature had first ascertained.

Once Hans had adjusted to the shock of this discovery, he followed the man through the clearing and into the margins of the forest, where the other injured lay. One by one, Hans healed the survivors of the crash. When he had finished, he sat with the grateful folk around a fire they had made, exhausted from his work. Too tired to think, he accepted a bed of needles the creatures had made for him by the fire's warmth and settled down to sleep.

[Image: Badger's Bed]

The next morning the men and women had many questions for Hans-- and he told them his sad story. And Han's own questions were answered: soon he learned how the creatures had come to the forest-- how they had fallen from the sky in their ingenious, but apparently dangerous flying machine that was now reduced to scrap scattered about the forest clearing.

[Image: The Crash]

Within a few days the people were strong enough to prepare for a journey home. They told Hans about their human settlements and about how their families would miss them in their absence. Listening to this Hans had shed a tear, remembering the badger family who had so cruelly disowned him. The humans comforted him, reminding Hans of his extraordinary healing powers and his compassion for others. And then the idea occurred to him.

'Perhaps,' he mused, 'perhaps you could take me along with you-- to your settlements. I could help others of your kind who are sick or injured.'

[Image: The Idea]

The people looked long and hard at Hans, and then at each other. One began to laugh, and soon some of the other creatures were laughing too. The others looked simply puzzled.

'What's so funny?' asked Hans.

The laughing continued.

'You want us-- humans-- to take you-- a talking badger with healing powers, back with us?'

'I don't understand. Why not?'

One of the men eagerly volunteered to explain on behalf of the laughing creatures, telling Hans, 'It's ridiculous. You're a badger! We have penicillin, aeroplanes, microwaves, microchips! We're a superior race. Whatever it is that you can do-- if in fact you can do anything at all-- of which I'm not convinced, you see. And,' he paused, tensing, 'I mean, what about your own kind? Shouldn't you go heal them?'

'Wait a second,' a woman piped in. 'You may pretend to be sceptical, but you know in your heart that what he--it-- can do is remarkable.' Hans smiled. 'But even-- in fact, especially-- because of this we simply can't take you back to our civilisation. You don't know what happens to animals there with special talents. We lock them up in places we call zoos. Or worse, they are put in circuses. In either case they have no freedom, and they are taken from their communities where they belong. Trust me, you are better off where you are.'

'Well then you could hide me, you could protect me from the malice of your own kind!'

'And just how long,' said the man, 'do you think we could keep a talking badger with healing hands a secret?' He laughed again.

And with that laugh, the people began to turn away from Hans, having collected their things and put out their fires. They were leaving him.

'Please!' Hans cried out to them. 'Please, you don't understand, I don't have anyone else!'

But they were no longer listening. Their minds were occupied with thoughts of home.

[Image: Betrayed]

As dusk fell, Hans grew cold in the dewy clearing. His eyes rested on his delicate, white hands, as warm tear after tear fell upon them.

Raising his hands above his head, he howled, 'Damn you, human hands! I thought you would be my salvation, but you were my undoing!'

And, eyes full of desperate anger, he began to beat his own hands savagely, one against the other, above his head. He did not stop until they were two bloodied stumps of white, mangled flesh.

[Image: 'Damn you, human hands!']